Even as several tech companies are pouring billions of dollars into developing Metaverse, a virtual world in which people can live, work, as well as play as avatars, there are several safety risks related to this complex platform.

The aim behind the Metaverse is to develop brand-new digital environments where users may engage with digital content more deeply than they can now, rather than just seeing it.

The increased interest in the Metaverse can be attributed to the Coronavirus epidemic. As more people began working and attending school or college remotely, there has been an increase in the demand for methods to make online contact more lifelike.

According to a recent report from Citibank, the value of the Metaverse might reach $13 trillion by 2030.

Experts, however, are concerned that crimes such as cyber trespassing, deception, violence, obscenity, and harassment could rise is Metaverse gets more sophisticated.

The Challenges

During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland United Arab Emirates’ minister of state for artificial intelligence, Omar Sultan Al Olama highlighted some challenging factors related to the Metaverse.

While speaking at the event, he asked the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nation’s specialised organisation for information and communication technology, to hold discussions about establishing global safety rules for the Metaverse that individuals must follow regardless of where they reside.
Even Chris Cox, the chief product officer at Meta Platforms—the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp—said in Davos that the world needs international standards when it comes to the Metaverse.

At Davos, Cox said: “There will probably be something like a rating system, which we have for film, we have for music, we have for other types of content so that a parent or a young person can have some sense of what the rules are in the environment they’re going to walk into.”

Facebook has already announced that it will launch its own Metaverse. But so far, the social media giant hasn’t revealed details related to data privacy and how data will be used and protected in the Metaverse. There are issues around how Facebook handled user data in the past that cast a shadow over the entire initiative.

Meanwhile, according to a report—The Future of Financial Crimes in Metaverse Report 2022—by London-based blockchain analysis provider Elliptic, the Metaverse is alluring for criminals trying to launder money.

When the Yuga Labs team announced the release of MetaRPG and its native cryptocurrency, ApeCoin (APE), in March 2022, fraudsters on social media tried to deceive consumers into clicking dangerous links or donating money for phoney prizes and were able to raise about $900,000.

Additionally, Elliptic’s report noted that while there may be numerous instances of legalised sex practices within the Metaverse as well as opportunities for sex-based businesses to open up within the Metaverse red-light districts, there are concerns about how the space could be used for more sinister content such as child sexual abuse materials, revenge porn and sexual harassment.

Poorvi Sachar, Head of Operations at Tezos India, told News18: “As interest in the Metaverse grows in India and across the globe, many people are expressing worries about the possible risks and hazards in settings where the lines between the real world and the virtual world are continuing to blur.”

She also said that the assumption that virtual, 3D surroundings would replace real-world settings as the primary means of human engagement is at the heart of the Metaverse concept and these environments will need extended reality (XR) to be widely used for them to become useful.

“Some of the present ‘virtual world’-creating applications, including those on numerous gaming platforms, give you a decent idea of the potential issues, as well as, they give you an obvious idea of future complications,” she added.

According to Sachar: “It is apparent that there are serious safety issues that have already arisen in these contexts. Other harmful aspects that exist in such virtual worlds/environment in addition to the violent, extremist type of content is the prevalence of racial and sexual assault.”

Ensuring Safety And Security

The concerns are serious, as crimes involving child molestation have already been documented in the Metaverse. For example, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family of South Korea reported in September 2021 that a 14-year-old girl had been forced to strip off for her Metaverse avatar before being instructed to have her avatar engage in sexual behaviours.
In India, a small but growing number of Metaverse users have reported cases of assault and sexual violation on their digital avatars. For example, earlier this year, a young woman from a metropolis sought legal recourse for what she called a “violation” of her avatar on the virtual reality platform, but the country’s criminal and judicial systems are still unprepared to deal with the challenges thrown up by the Metaverse, according to lawyers.

According to a report by Economic Times, Pavan Duggal, a cyberlaw specialist and member of the Metaverse Law Nucleus, a global organisation trying to develop common principles for managing such virtual conflicts, stated that a new legal framework is required.

As the Metaverse is a global ecosystem and litigation is challenging, Duggal said that the current legal system does not recognise digital avatars and added that “attribution of identity and jurisdiction are some of the challenges at present”.

However, Tezos India’s Sachar said: “With AR, malicious software or a DoS attack, for instance, may momentarily ‘blind’ a user, and, for instance, block an approaching car or conceal the attacker’s face!”

“The usage of AR in real-world settings, such as in business and health, gives nefarious adversaries the possibility to endanger life and safety. It will be crucial to think carefully about whether to conduct delicate business utilising these technologies, especially given that these factors could have an effect on system usage policies,” she further added.

While talking about how businesses could ensure safety, she said that giving all employees access to a VPN (virtual private network) is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to protect the company’s network and data.

“Install a VPN to ensure that information is transmitted securely between your company’s main systems and the devices that your employees use,” she noted.

Additionally, she noted that it is, however, not enough to choose a VPN provider from the best brands. One must ensure that it gives the highest level of security that it assures for your corporate network and for this, the employer or the firm’s IT personnel should focus on VPN encryption.

“Any encryption’s strength is determined by the encryption key’s bit size. The length of the key affects how strong the encryption is. Longer keys may offer the best defence against external brute force,” she added.

Apart from the corporate sector, Sachar also talked about safety issues related to individuals. She said that there is no reason to believe that netizens who currently use websites and social media platforms for wrongdoing will suddenly stop once they enter a Metaverse.

According to her, numerous clashes over problems such as gender, ethnicity, religion, and politics are unavoidable, and they can be detrimental to Metaverse residents’ mental health.

“One option is to keep one’s virtual world social circle to acquaintances and those with whom they already have some sort of contact. Maybe that will help one on an individual level, but then that still can’t save you from every virtual attack ever,” the expert noted.

Furthermore, she said: “Metaverse and XR are inevitable, and one way or the other, people will surely have to rely on external security providers in order to safeguard themselves.”

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